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Beekeepers Mourn But Remain Fascinated With Nature's Pollinators

Patricia Grupp inspecting her bee hive after the long, cold winter
Nancy Camden

The honey bee in the United States is suffering stress from pesticides, mites and what is termed Colony Collapse Disorder. Adding to that stress was this year’s long, cold winter which was fatal to many local bee colonies.

Pat Grupp is a member of the Kalamazoo Bee Club and a hobbyist bee keeper with three honey bee hives. 

Dead bees in Patricia Grupp's hive
Credit Nancy Camden
Dead bees in Patricia Grupp's hive

All three of her hives had died late in the winter.

“It’s very unfortunate because I started the winter with some very strong bees,” says Grupp. “Last year I processed 225 pounds of honey.”

Grupp says that the honey from big-box stores are refined taking much of the nutrition out of it. She strains but does not filter her honey.

But, it’s not the honey or any ideas about selling it that enticed Grupp into bee keeping. It was learning that the average person can keep bees which stimulated her fascination with the bee.

“This tiny little insect, they communicate to one another. They know each other. You can just go on and on about the wonders of the honey bee," Grupp says.

"When bees come out of the cell, they have different jobs to do. They live about six weeks in the summertime. So, when they first come out of their cell, they’re house bees. They stay inside. They clean up the hive. They take care of the queen. They take in the pollen as it comes in. They take care of the baby bees. And, then they become guard bees." 

Grupp likes to peak into the hives to see the guard bees standing in a row at the entrance. They stand with the front two legs in the air as though they are ready to pounce. Grupp says that the bees won’t bother you unless you bother the bees. And that if you get stung by something black and yellow it is more than likely a yellow jacket wasp.

In the middle of summer, each of Grupp’s hives houses 60,000 to 80,000 bees. And, yet, when working in her yard, she might not see one. They are all out pollinating the neighborhood plants and gardens.

The Kalamazoo Bee Club meets once a month usually at the Kalamazoo Nature Center and has at least 500 members, according to member Tom Treuhaft. Treuhaft keeps his bees in his backyard in Kalamazoo. He says his neighbors love his bees because they pollinate their gardens.

“Of course, I give them a little honey and sweeten the deal every fall,” says Treuhaft.

One of his three hives survived what he calls a ‘devastating winter.’

“A bee keeper has a real affinity and a real interest and maybe love for these bees,” says Grupp. “You really like your bees. They’re so fascinating and we do all kinds of whatever to keep them alive and keep them going and keep them healthy.”

The beekeepers have purchased new honey bee colonies from suppliers and are optimistically placing them with their queen into the vacant hives.

This month’s bee club meeting will be at 6 pm on Saturday, May 17th at the Westwood Fire Hall in Kalamazoo Township. Meetings and membership are free. Everyone interested in bees and bee keeping is invited to hear a talk by an expert on ‘swarming.’

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